The commissioner’s meeting room at the Forsyth County Administration building was nearly filled on Wednesday as residents expressed frustrations and what do next after the city of Cumming’s condemnation of a private sewer facility.
Forsyth County District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson hosted the town hall meeting for the approximately 400 households from five neighborhoods around Buford Dam Road connected to the Habersham Wastewater Treatment Plant.
“We’ve had five different neighborhoods all with a little bit of different information, different history, different understanding of what is happening and why it is happening and what the impact is going to be,” Semanson said.
“So, I wanted to at least provide an opportunity for all of those homeowners to come together under one roof and share what is going on with them, seeing how you can use the power of numbers to have a better outcome for all of you.
Though Semanson hosted the meeting, the county is not involved in the issue.
In April, the Cumming City Council voted unanimously to take over the plant and has since taken over the plant and issued those connected $6,250 in fees to connect to city sewer, which could be paid in a discounted lump sum of $5,000 or paid in installments with a required interest rate.
Residents were given two months to respond.
The city has plans to replace the aging facility with a state-of-the-art facility. The new facility would first take on about 111,000 gallons per day and is planned in 12-18 months, and a second phase would reach 7.5 million gallons per day. A 15-million-gallons-per-day plant is the ultimate goal and is slated for about 2050.
Members of a task force made of members of the five neighborhoods answered some questions and told attendees of plans moving forward. It appears residents are considering at least three types of lawsuits.
A series of lawsuits could be sent to previous homeowners if the current homeowners’ closing paper work says they’re on public sewer.
Resident Jerry Sullivan told attendees of a plan to hire an attorney to file an injunction and to later file a suit.
“They will file an injunction that lasts only 30 days, but within that 30 day period of an injunction they are going to do a lot of homework to make sure we get to the next step of filing a suit,” he said.
He said if approved, the injunction could give the residents another at least 30 days to pay and said it would likely cost about $450 per household if all participated.
George Butler, an attorney representing the Habersham Action Committee, a non-profit that has operated the plant since the mid-2000s, was skeptical the injunction would be approved.
He said he is considering action against the city but it would be a long process and encouraged residents to pay the city now, with a goal of getting the money back at the end of the process.
During the meeting, he answered questions and spoke at length on issues between the city and the HAC.
Butler said the trust indenture — an agreement between the city and the HAC — allegedly signed in 2006 and used by the city as a basis to take over the plant is fraudulent.
In a letter to the state environmental protection division, Butler wrote the indenture had been signed by his clients but was incomplete and “was at best conditionally ‘delivered’” to the city under specific conditions he said were not satisfied.
He said the city and HAC never came to a decision and one of the pieces of the unapproved indenture was for there to be no fees for residents if the city took the plant over.
Butler said the city’s plans for a new treatment plant and the current plant having a permit that allowed if to flow treated effluent into Lake Lanier made the property valuable to the city.
Glenn Berny, treasurer for HAC, added that the land and easements to go through Army Corps of Engineers land were valuable assets
“What you’re all saying is … ‘we’re paying money, why don’t we get credit for that? Why don’t we get some kind of credit through offsetting our tap-on fees?’” he said.
In the meeting, Semanson asked if any city officials were present to take questions and no one answered. She said Mayor Ford Gravitt was invited.
“Mayor Gravitt did express even that although he was unable to attend this evening, he did have an interest in meeting with me in coming days to try and see if we can’t get to a better place,” Semanson said. “That said, I know that we’ve been down that road before with the city.”
Semanson said the next steps would be continuing to reach more neighbors and come up with plans.
“I would encourage each of you to communicate with your neighbors, get them in touch with the task force that can kind of help funnel information back and forth,” she said.